|A sample of the potholes we had to navigate on our drive towards the Bulgaria-Romania border.|
|A snapshot of the countryside driving towards Romania. Lots of green fields, farmland and not much else.|
|The horse-drawn cart is still a popular mode of transport.|
|And more green fields.|
|Waiting to cross the bridge and go through the Romanian border control.|
|A detail of the Danube Bridge: It was designed by Soviet engineers V. Andreev and N. Rudomazin and opened in 1954. The star of Russia is a prominent feature on the lights.|
|Once Bulgaria and Romania are accepted into the Schengen Treaty, there won't be anymore border control. We were glad the countries hadn't been accepted yet otherwise we'd never have visited Romania.|
Once settled, we set out to find an ATM and some food. Walking along the streets, I noticed many of the buildings were just crumbling and I don't think any building had been washed, ever. I was grateful that it wasn't raining because that would bring this environment to a whole new level of "depressing".
|While walking towards the center of town, Sarah almost walked right into this hole. Of all the potential walking hazards in Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey, this one in Bucharest was the grandaddy of them all.|
|Look what was parked right near the hole Sarah encountered? A hearse with a url posted on it that one can easily contact. Handy!|
|At the train station, I noticed this woman mopping the entrance walkway. I thought, "Man, this effort was like a drop in the ocean of what needed to be done."|
|We were on Transylvania Street. Perfect.|
Our host recommended that we see the Palace of Parliament and so that's to where we headed first. We soon had the impression that Bucharest is a bit like Washington, DC in the sense that one walks miles in order to get from A to B; the buildings and many of the newer avenues are on such a grand scale, it can be a mile just to walk a couple blocks.
Our Transylvania Street apartment was just north of the Cișmigiu Gardens which we had to walk through in order to reach the Palace of Parliament. The park contained a couple of playgrounds that were just packed with kids and of course our own children had to try out the equipment.
|Crossing over the Dâmbovița River.|
|We stopped at this enormous play structure (fitting size next to the Palace of Parliament) to finish our dreadful lunch while the kids played for a bit.|
We left the Palace of Parliament visitor's center and started walking around the outer walls of the Palace of Parliament in order to reach the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is located in a section of the Palace of Parliament. We walked for miles, literally. One area that we walked by had an enormous construction project underway. I since learned it is for the Cathedral for the Salvation of Romanian People which is intended to be the largest Orthodox church in the world, and amongst the largest church buildings in the world. My thoughts on this? Stop it Bucharest. Just stop it. You can't maintain what you've got. Buildings are crumbling and have never been washed since construction. Entrances to key buildings are in disrepair. First impressions are bad impressions. Get a grip and reign in these projects!
I'm not a huge fan of contemporary art; mostly because I don't think the same effort goes into contemporary works today as what went into an impressionist painting or a Van Dyck painting or a Rodin sculpture, for example. But I still occasionally give contemporary art a try because one out of every hundred pieces I see, does hit it out of the park. On the ground floor were a number of exhibits by Mircea Cantor and one of those fit into the home run category. He had painstakingly created numerous small military jets out of metal cans (soda cans or oil cans?), each with it's own fish hook attached. They were all hung as if they were flying, or swimming, below a fish net that was set like it was about to trap the tiny planes. Vince and I thought the message related to how we are all lured and trapped by both militarism and consumerism. It was thought-provoking and meaningful. This was our reaction; maybe the artist didn't intend this interpretation at all. I think the point is, it engaged us. Mircea Cantor is a Romanian-born artist who employs readymade objects; his choice of media is diverse, in that he has employed video, animation, sculpture, drawing, painting and installation art in his work.
|The crumbling driveway and broken marble steps leading up to the museum doesn't give a good first impression.|
|National Museum of Contemporary Art: The museum here was inaugurated in 2004.|
|The best part of the National Museum of Contemporary Art was this rooftop terrace. Having a drink here, overlooking the city, on a beautiful day was sweet.|
|This was the walkway around the outer walls of the Palace of Parliament. We encountered another walking hazard.|
|Building from the early 20th century sadly crumbling.|
|Old town pedestrian area.|
|The old town is filled with restaurants, pubs and bars, some of which have their own catchy slogans.|
|There are still some architectural gems in old town.|
|National Museum of Romanian History.|
|A cafe that reflects the aspirations of the country. Lucky for us, Romania hadn't been accepted into the Schengen Treaty yet.|
|The view from our table of James and Sarah in the empty lake that surrounds the restaurant. In the summer months, this lake is filled with water and would make a very pretty view.|
So we had to turn to "plan b" which was to continue on to the Palace of Parliament and hopefully take a tour. I had our passports and so we were prepared. When we arrived we spoke to the man at the information desk who said the next tour was booked up and they wouldn't have an opening for another hour or so. He asked if we'd like to reserve 5 spots in an afternoon tour. "We could reserve a tour?" (Why didn't the woman at the information desk tell me that yesterday?) We decided not to wait around today but to book a tour for 15:00 the next day and left. So far, two strikes on our Palace of Parliament efforts.When descending down the steps from the entrance, little Sarah managed to dislodge and break one of the marble tiles merely by stepping on it.
|Good as new. Well, not really.|
|House built in 1815 from the Salciua de Jos village which is located in the Apuseni Mountains.|
|Interior of the Salciua house with typical furnishings.|
|A typical "high building" of rich peasants from the north part of Gorj county (circa 1800).|
|A Draghiceni half-buried house (circa 1900): This type of housing was used up through the mid-20th century in southern Oltenia mainly due to local climate conditions but also to economic and historical ones.|
|Early 19th-century windmill used for grinding grain. It was brought to the museum from the Sarichioi village which is situated on the Razelm lakeside.|
|This pendulum swing was hands-down one of the best pieces of playground equipment the kids had ever seen. It worked like a teeter-totter but could swing 360 degrees. It was fun; even I gave it a try.|
|This was another neat structure; it was a swing set arranged in a circle which allowed for more interactive swinging. And yes, the kids confirmed that if one timed it right one could kick the feet of others swinging into the center.|
|Testing and validating the hypothesis.|
|We discovered that the Irish in Romania celebrate St Patrick's Day in the similar off-beat ways as their ex-pat colleagues in North America.|
|A wooden church from the Mintia village in Transylvania.|
|The pub handed the kids these fun Guinness hats. They weren't drinking any Guinness that night but got into the spirit of the occasion anyway.|
|The platform at Plata Romana was only just over a meter wide. Clearly the architects didn't think anyone much would use this metro stop.|
|Unirii Park where the tour began: The enormous fountains have been drained for winter but will be refilled sometime during the spring. Many fountain tiles were broken and scattered around. The Palace of Parliament is way off in the distance.|
|The Curtea Veche Church, built in 1559, is Bucharest’s oldest church.|
|Inerior of the Curtea Veche Church: Nothing remains of the original building. The church deteriorated over the years due to Turkish raids and fires. Restoration works however in 1928 and 1935 brought it back close to its former self.|
|The historic Manuc Inn that was built in 1808. Great efforts have been taken to restore this hotel and two on-site restaurants.|
|The painted domes were restored at the beginning of the 20th century.|
|CEC (Romanian state-owned bank) Palace opened as the bank's headquarters in 1900.|
|Apparently this is the best spot in Bucharest to smoke a hookah.|
|National Military Palace was officially inaugurated in 1923.|
Nicolae Ceausescu built the Palace of Parliament, naming it the People's House (Casa Poporului). Ceausescu chose 28 year old, Anca Petrescu as the chief architect and she led a team of 700 architects and 20,000 builders who worked 3 shifts, 24/7, to build it. The building was more or less completed in 1997 but, in my opinion, there's a whole lot of maintenance which now needs attention. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed to make way for the building, equating to the area the size of Venice. Among that which was lost were churches, synagogues and valuable historic constructions. (Bucharest was at one time referred to as "Little Paris".) 40,000 people were displaced and forced to move to newly constructed communist blocks of flats of a poor quality.
another visitor's photos of the interior of the Palace posted on the internet to give readers a glimpse, if interested; we only saw 4% of the building and the rooms were absolutely massive...and grand. It was actually pretty appalling, given the poor standard of living most Romanians faced while so much money was spent on what was essentially a monument to Ceaușescu. Of course there have been many rulers who've done similar things and changed the face of cities, rather than improving the life of their average citizen/subject. Ceaușescu's work is only 30 years old so the sting is still there. It's also harder to admire because the powers that be don't seem to be able to maintain what they've now got. These newer buildings are starting to fall a part. There's graffiti that needs to be cleaned up. The buildings themselves need to be cleaned. Landscaping is almost non-existent.
|Looking down Boulevard Libertății (Liberty).|
|Swing battles. Good times.|
|Look through the grime and there are some buildings with beautiful detail.|
|Entering the old town, there are more buildings with unique detail but which need some TLC.|
|Ending the Bucharest stay with some local fare: Sarmale (cabbage rolls) with polenta. Good ol' comfort food.|
|A snap of the countryside en route to Brașov. The Carpathian mountains can be seen in the distance.|
|If you've ever wondered while washing your hands if you are doing it correctly, here's the visual aid for you!|
|Brasov Synagogue was built in 1901.|
|Beautifully detailed shops sit along Strada Republicii which is Brașov's main pedestrian thoroughfare, leading away from the Council Square towards Bulevardul Eroilor.|
|More of Strada Republicii.|
|Driving south to Sinaia with the Bucegi Mountains in the distance.|
We had lunch at the charming on-site restaurant and then walked about 150 meters to the Pelisor Castle.
|Pelisor Castle was built in 1899–1902 by order of King Carol I, as the residence for his nephew and heir, Ferdinand (son of Carol's brother Leopold von Hohenzollern) and Ferdinand's consort Marie of Edinburgh. While Michael I has sold the Peles Castle back to Romania, he has decided to keep Pelisor Castle for the Royal Family; neverthesless, Pelisor Castle is today mostly used as a museum and is open to the public. Pelisor is interesting architecturally because it is a blend of art nouveau with byzantine and celtic elements. Additional photos of the castle can be found here.|
|Interior of the Great Church: Construction of The Great Church began in 1842 and was completed in 1846. The altar screen, the furniture of the nave and the two thrones are gold plated.|
|Thanks to King Carol I this was the first church in Romania to be lit by electricity.|
On March 20th, we left Brasov and drove to Timișoara, Romania. We chose Timișoara as a stop-over because our next focus destination was Belgrade, Serbia and the drive between Brasnov and Belgrade was too far to complete in a single day. Even with the break, it was a long drive and we were pulled over once by traffic police who caught us speeding in a 50 km zone; it was a 100 km highway with a 300 meter drop to 50 km passing an intersection. A lucrative speed trap. Fortunately, Vincent got off with a warning. But the woman officer said, "If I ever pull you over again, you'll have to tell me that Sibiu is the best place in Romania." (And theoretically, she'll let him off again???)
We found our hotel without much trouble, unloaded the car and then went into the city for dinner. We didn't know much about Timisoara before we arrived other than it is where the 1989 Romanian Revolution began. It is now a city of about 320,000 people. Records of first settlements go back to the 13th century. The area was ruled by Ottomans from the mid-16th century through the early 18th century and Timisoara was the first mainland European city to be lit by electric street lamps, in 1884.
While I may have made a number of criticisms about certain things in Romania, I must give the country full marks for the playgrounds we'd seen. Both in Bucharest and in Timișoara, we encountered a number of parks that had multiple play areas. The Parcul Copiilor was exceptional and was one of the best children's parks we had ever visited in any country.
|Crossing the Bega River to the Parcul Copiilor. The Decebal Bridge can be seen in the distance.|
|None of us had ever seen a rope swing like this before. It was a blast.|
|Our three buccanneers took over the pirate ship.|
|We rented peddle-carts for the kids and they loved those.|
|They were off for an hour or so while Vince, Molly and I relaxed on a park bench.|
|In the summer, this green canal is filled with water and the park has canoes going around that children aged 1-7 can ride. Meanwhile kids can play on the island in the wigwams.|
|The in-ground tramplines were a big hit too.|
|The lighthouse slide was another great find as we were about to exit Copiilor Park.|
|It's the wrong time of year to see the Parcul Rozelor at it's best. Apparently June and August are prime blooming months. Nevertheless, it was clear this is a beautiful and well-manicured garden.|
|In front of the Philharmonic Orchestra concert building was this star for George Enescu. George Enescu's name was used on a number of streets and landmarks we'd seen in Romania. He was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor and teacher.|
|Catedrala Mitropolitană din Timișoara (Timișoara Orthodox Cathedral): The cathedral was built between 1936 and 1941. It's ranked as one of the top sights to see in Timisoara.|
|The building's architecture style is a mix of Neo-Moldavian, late Renaissance, Ottoman and Byzantine elements. Buildings of a Neo-Moldavian style tend to have an elongated figure as seen in the previous photo.|
|While Vincent and I finished our drinks, the kids, and especially Molly, had a grand time chasing pigeons.|
While Bucharest had its shortcomings, we really enjoyed Brasov and Timisoara. We had identified other places we'd like to visit, such as Bran Castle and the Transfăgărășan highway. Clearly Romania has its prized locations and we only scratched the surface. Maybe one day we'll be lucky enough to pick up again where we left off.